Language kills, and inflamed rhetoric of the kind that spews almost daily from the lips of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and others running for public office in this country should be condemned. And one doesn’t have to look far to see the consequences of their ill-considered, inflammatory rhetoric.
This goes for Carly Fiorina as well. She trembled with emotion on Sept. 16 at one of the GOP debates, describing a video that supposedly showed a mangled fetus being made ready for sale to the highest bidders for its body parts: “Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking,” she intoned, “while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’” Needless to say, she was talking about a made-up video.
Her language was meant to inflame voters, and it succeeded—as in the subsequent attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, where an obviously deranged Robert Lewis Dear killed several people, then muttered something about “no more body parts” when he was arrested.
It may take time for us to understand the complex motives behind the horrific shootings in San Bernadino that left so many innocent people dead and wounded. Syed Rizwan Farook was an American citizen, an immigrant from Pakistan. His wife was also originally from Pakistan. Needless to say, they were Muslims, and there is some evidence already that they had contact with Islamic radicals. One can surely expect a lot of dangerous rhetoric about Islamic terror in the United States in the coming weeks.
The San Bernadino tragedy will further inflame anti-Muslim feeling in this country, a sentiment already amplified by American politicians, especially Trump and Carson. In an ill-considered moment, Carson proclaimed that he could never envision a Muslim as president, and he suggested that allowing a Syrian refugee in one’s neighborhood was equivalent to having a “rabid dog” in one’s midst.
Even worse, if that is possible, Trump suggested registering all Muslims in the United States and having the government spy on certain mosques—rhetoric that seems to hark back to Germany in the ’30s, when the Nazi regime treated Jews in this way. Trump has also continued to repeat the discredited claim that American Muslims in New Jersey celebrated by the “thousands” when the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11. Most recently, he suggested that we “take out the families” of terrorists. This sounds like something from an old Wild West movie, and it’s dangerous talk—unacceptable in the mouth of a candidate for president.
Even the gentler Mike Huckabee, himself a former minister, noted after the Nov. 13 Paris attacks that he couldn’t think of “any other group” besides Muslims who were targeting innocent people. I suppose he doesn’t count Dylan Roof’s attack on a black church in Charleston on June 17, which left nine people dead.
It’s not hard to find verbal flamethrowers among the current crop of GOP presidential contenders. Their rhetoric seems in stark contrast to the language of both George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, who were careful with their speech, trying to calm the waters when they could. Indeed, only 10 days after 9/11, President Bush—in a widely noted address—said, “I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. Ithttps://youtu.be/er1LsKPXLj8s practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.” We can be grateful to Bush for modeling good linguistic behavior here.
Of course Trump is the worst offender in the current pack. The level of vitriol in his speech is frightening, as he castigates Mexicans as “rapists,” talks rudely about Carly Fiorina’s and Rand Paul’s physical appearances, makes fun of a reporter with an inherited disability—on and on, one insult after another. He has dumped kerosene on many flames that were smoldering, and has set a whole forest of uninformed voters on fire with hatred.
The problem is we’re all being caught up in this firestorm, which is made all the worse by the fact that weapons—assaults rifles, handguns, even machine guns—are so readily available. We live in an armed camp, and many unbalanced people are running around with live ammo in their pockets. And the situation is way out of control, with mass shootings happening every single day in the United States, as The New York Times has just reported. The Washington Post notes that the massacre in San Bernadino was actually the 355th mass shooting this year. The numbers are almost beyond belief. It’s hard to call this a civilized country without a shamed face.
It’s time that Americans dealt seriously with guns, getting in place strong and appropriate measures—there is no excuse for anything but the strictest controls. But the politics of gun control are not easy, and years of hard work lie ahead for those willing to engage with this problem. On the other hand, it’s very possible to temper our language, to understand that words color everything we do, and that red hot talk only inflames the soul and makes matters worse for everyone.
So, for starters, American politicians could lead by example and get their language under control. It’s also, of course, time to get the sick cult of guns in this country under control. And there is no time like now.